Pa. regulators enter HISA agreement; alternative legislation discussed

Harrisburg, PA — The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission (PHRC) during a special meeting March 21 voted to enter into three nine-month agreements with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA), by which those currently employed by the commission will carry out their duties under the direction of HISA and its Horseracing Integrity & Welfare Unit (HIWU).

The agreements will be ratified during the regular monthly meeting March 28.

The approval is for the current Racetrack Safety Program, which began in July 2022; the Intergovernmental Cooperative Agreement, which pertains to HISA and HIWU using PHRC staff; and the Laboratory Services Agreement, which in this case pertains to the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory, which handles equine drug testing in the state. The HISA Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program is scheduled to begin March 27, but as was noted during the meeting, the Federal Trade Commission has not yet approved the rules.

The Standardbred industry, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere throughout the United States, is not covered by the 2020 law that created HISA.

The PHRC, in making its decision to approve the nine-month agreements, said it was based upon the burden of $6 million in HISA assessments for 2023 that would have to be paid by racetracks and horsemen’s groups if the commission did not enter the agreements. Another chief concern was that HISA and HIWU would not be able to provide the staff necessary for Thoroughbred tracks to conduct their meets. Parx Racing and Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course are currently open and mostly race year-round.

Based on a credit reimbursement system under HISA, the cost of the AMDC Program would drop to roughly $1.2 million based on projections, said PHRC Thoroughbred bureau director Tom Chuckas, who noted there will be a close monitoring of payments to ensure accuracy in the process.

The PHRC during the special meeting acknowledged concerns over the uncertainty caused by ongoing litigation that could eventually stall HISA.

The United States Trotting Association, which has about 3,000 members in Pennsylvania, is a party in litigation challenging HISA’s constitutionality. Russell Williams, president of Hanover Shoe Farms in Pennsylvania and president of the USTA, told the PHRC he appreciates the commission considering the point of view of stakeholders and supports its efforts ensure Pennsylvania racing is protected and prospers, but also said a “negative” is that HISA never has been held to account for its assessments.

The USTA, National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians have voiced support for alternative federal legislation that would create a compact they say will accomplish many of the goals of HISA with breed-specific regulations. Williams told the PHRC a member of the United States Congress has signed on to sponsor that legislation that would provide a “state-administered program.”

He said the program outlined in the legislation, to be introduced shortly, would be “health- and safety-focused and science-based.” He also said there would be no ban on race-day Lasix as part of the program.

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